Category Archives: The South African Series

Of Tumors, Humor and the Joke the is the American Healthcare System

This is an attempt to condense a 2-and a half-month saga into less than 2,000 words. There will be gaps in the information and series of events, but hopefully it will explain my extended absence from the blog.


In the Beginning…

Dec 29, 2016

In early January I hinted that I was experiencing my first migraine. It was both terrifying and thrilling. Terrifying because there was no pain to rival what I was experiencing in my cranium at the time, and thrilling because it was exactly the sort of pain I’d always hoped to gain familiarity with. I used to witness my cousin endure frequent migraines, and at 19, I thought it was so sexy. She would pop her prescription pills, sit quietly at the kitchen table and let her lashes rest against the dark circles beneath her eyes. The picture of serenity was in complete contrast to the outgoing and gregarious woman I’d known my entire life. What kind of relief did she feel after taking the pills? What was it like to be THAT quiet? I wanted to know!

Image source:

Nearly 20 years later, I got my wish. After spending three days at some of the Western Capes most beautiful beaches, I began to suffer some of the most debilitating headaches I’d ever experienced. They felled me…kept me in bed for the majority of the day. There wasn’t an over the counter pill I could take that would dull the pain for more than an hour. This must be the migraine I’d so desired as a college sophomore! Now that I’d diagnosed myself, my husband dutifully went to Clinks to pick up some migraine medicine – a two-day supply cocktail of pills that rendered me barely coherent and almost motionless. A week later, I will still living with excruciating pain in my head.

Eventually – after much necessary and needed nagging from the wonderful women in my life – I found my way at the doctor’s explaining my symptoms. We ruled out meningitis (which I’d survived in 2013), as well as allergies. The doctor surmised that I probably had a tension headache, which lead to the migraine or vice versa. She prescribed 6 different pills and told me that if the headaches didn’t go away, we could investigate with a blood screen or a CT scan.

Those words proved to be key.

While on the medication, I felt wonderful. I was functional (not able to drive, though) and back to interacting with my family. I called my doctor to tell her the goodness. We were both thrilled and made no plans to see each other again. But two days after the meds ran out, the pain was back. By this time, it had been 12 days since my first headache. I did not remember my cousin suffering migraines for this long, and I was alarmed that my first migraine should last this long. However, I figured it would go away on its own if I sat still, avoided loud noises and drank some tea. It didn’t work.

I spent my birthday week alone in a cabin in agony.


The Diagnosis…

Feb 1, 2017

When I could no longer endure the torment, I went back my doctor. She ordered blood work and a CT scan. We had to drive to the next town to fulfill the latter. The radiologist gave us the disc with my images without a word. We then went to the otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor, aka ENT) to investigate if my discomfort was due to allergies as my GP suspected. The man was a congenial man with an intense stammer. After greeting us and making small talk, he casually popped the CD into his computer and grew very pensive.

I asked him if I could put my head on his table, as by this time I was experiencing fierce pain.

“S-s-s-so this is your b-b-b-rain…,” he said. “And n-n-n-n-not to alarm you, b-b-b-but there’s a mass that sh-sh-sh-sh-shouldn’t be there.”

It took me a while to register what he was saying because of how it was being said. I had a tumor, he revealed: it was slow growing and about the size of a golf ball. Judging by its dimensions, it’d been growing for about 10 years. It appeared to be full of fluid and was most likely the cause of my persistent headaches. It did not appear to be malignant, however.

“A neurologist would have to confirm this diagnosis,” he admitted.

I lifted my forehead from his desk to acknowledge that I’d heard him. Then I began to both cry and fight back my tears. I mean, you hear the words “brain” and “tumor” and you expect the worst. Marshall took my hand and squeezed it. The otolaryngologist placed his hand on top of ours and did the same. Struggling through his stammer, he assured me it was not as bad as it seemed.

“Besides, you have worse things to worry about. Donald Trump is president!”

I laughed, despite the pain, despite the grim prognosis, despite it all.

Yeah. Things could always be worse.


Go With the Money! Follow Your Insurance.

Feb 4, 2017

 My South African medical Avengers gave me options and advice about where and how to seek treatment to remove my tumor. There were several skilled surgeons in the country who could easily remove it, “Or since your insurance is in the States, you could go back home and have it removed there.”

Besides my husband, I had only told a handful of friends about my diagnosis. All of them offered well wishes and prayer. Two of them paid for and arranged my flight back to America, and a mere 3 days after I discovered I had a meningioma I was on my way into the country.

There was a herd of cattle on the South African Airways flight all the way from Jo-burg to Dakar, something I was both horrified by and grateful for. One of the side effects of the tumor+medication+altitude was severe gas, so while I was sickened by the stench of cow manure in the hull, it concealed the stink of the intestine coiling gas I was releasing in my seat. I pitied the guy sitting next to me, but only a bit. He commandeered the armrest between us, so fart guilt-free I did.

I arrived in Washington, DC on the 5th. After we’d deliberated about where to get surgery, a friend of mine had already begun making arrangements for me to receive care at Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins has a system whereby new patients are routed through a medical concierge who handles your case, the pertinent paperwork and functions as a go-between for the patient and the doctor(s).

My concierge was awful. The woman was mediocre in the performance of her duties at best and rarely engaged her brain in the execution of those duties. I’m not saying this to be cruel – it’s just true. In the week I spent working with her, I was no closer to getting surgery than I was on the beach in South Africa. After five days of emailing back and forth with her (and she would only respond to my emails at the end of the day just before she was leaving the office) it was determined that I could not see a neurosurgeon for a consultation until I’d had an MRI done. Why could she have not told me that on Day 2, at least? Despite knowing that I was staying in Fairfax, VA, she scheduled my MRI to be done on the JHH campus, 2 hours away from my address… and for February 20th, 11 days away.

By this time, I had run out of the steroids my SA doctor had given me to help shrink the tumor and had no prescription pain pills left. It being Black History Month, my confidence in John’s Hopkins was already low, given its history with kidnapping and experimenting on Black bodies in the early 20th century. Everyone around me was exasperated, which was making me anxious. My cousin (the one with the migraines) suggested that I go to the emergency room to seek care and eventually an MRI. I declined to follow the course of action because of respectability. Can I tell you, respectability rarely gets results? I decided to drop Johns Hopkins, their ridiculous process and inefficient staff entirely soon afterward.

Why I gotta almost kill someone to get access to healthcare I pay for by LAW every month???

I spent the next two days trying to find a neurosurgeon who would order an MRI for me so that I could get a consultation. No neurosurgeon would see me for a consultation unless I had an MRI, and I could not get an MRI unless I was a current patient…and I could not become a new patient without an MRI. It was frustrating and exhausting. Eventually, I ended up at an urgent care center and explained my dilemma.

“I just want the pain to go away,” I said to the attending physician. She was a compassionate woman who took on my frustrations as her own.

“This is just not right,” she muttered. She and an attending nurse worked diligently to get me in contact with a neurologist, who spent an inordinate amount of time talking about how “good my insurance was” and that it should be no problem at all for me to find care. He then wrote the order for an MRI and referred me to a neurosurgeon: Dr. Joe Watson.


Income Determines Outcomes

Feb 14, 2017

 My MRI was scheduled for Valentine’s Day at 10pm. The out of pocket cost for the procedure was $2,746 payable at the time of service. I had just met with the neurologist on the 10th, which meant that if I did not have a spare $2700 plus hanging around, I would only have four days to raise the funds or forfeit the procedure. Fortunately, and by God’s good grace, Marshall has developed the traits of a miser and provides our savings account with regular infusions. After depleting all the funds in our health savings account, I paid the balance with money from our personal savings account. Mind you, this was my personal cost even with the benefit of “good insurance”.

I was grateful to finally get the ball rolling, but the whole 2-week ordeal was troubling to me. Accessing healthcare in America was proving to be less like Grey’s Anatomy and more like John Q. The ego, bureaucracy, nonchalance and indifference of the gate-keeping paper pushers on the front lines was staggering. Unlike civilized countries – like the UK, Canada and South Africa where the life and health of patient comes first – healthcare in America is a luxury industry, socioeconomic factors, such as class and disposable income dictates quality. It also dictates outcomes.

Once behind the Iron Insurance Gates, however, I found myself treated to an entirely different experience. There were no more frustrations. The course ahead of me was clear and well plotted, and I had my surgery scheduled almost immediately. On Wednesday, Feb 22nd, I was at Inova Hospital where I submitted myself to the administrations of Dr. Watson’s skilled hands and numerous metal utensils. The surgery took 5 hours to complete (only because there were two arteries feeding my tumor and Dr. Watson had to take care not to sever them and induce a stroke) and an hour later I was groggy and talking way more than I ought to have, but I was in my right(ish) mind. A sampling of the things I am reported to have said are:

“I’m hungry. Don’t feed me like a Charles Dickens orphan!”

“Donald Trump is possessed by a demon.”

“People like penis books, but they try to act like they don’t like penis books. They wanna judge me for writing penis books, but they like them….don’t they? That’s why I stopped writing penis books!”

“Mitch (who I had been calling ‘Chan’ until he corrected me. Mitch is of Philippine descent) has soft hands…soft hands for touching my boobies…and we’re going to find him a boy toy…”

“Emily Bronte does not get her due as a writer!!!!”

I’m angry about Emily Bronte not getting her props.

On February 25th I was released from the hospital. Had I still been screwing around with Johns Hopkins, I’d probably still be waiting for a consultation TODAY.



This is why I have been AWOL on the blog. I briefly entertained the idea of ‘bravely writing through the pain’, but I decided that doing so was. Not. My. Life. I wanted to spend the weeks that morphed into months focusing on myself, my family and the people who have shown me genuine care and concern in this span of time. Besides, not writing gave me the opportunity to do a lot more reading, an indulgence I rarely get to participate in anymore.

All the same I did miss you, MOM Squad and for those who reached out to me privately and personally, your words of encouragement and prayers have meant the world to me. If you ever find yourself in need of a neurosurgeon, I recommend Joe Watson. He’s not just a great doctor, he’s a good man. He also keeps a bowl of delicious candy in his office, which on their own are worth the trip!


Are you looking for copies of ‘Madness & Tea’ or any of my awesome/hilarious/colorful books? You can find them on the internet! And guess what? The internet will deliver them straight to you if you click this link.


Metro DC police confirm Stukie has been found. We should be satisfied with that.

The last time I wrote about Stukie’s disappearance, several Zambian media sources shamelessly plagiarized my work. Today I invite those same sources to copy and paste as much of this article as they wish. Everything I have to say is about you.

17 hours ago, the Twitter handle for the DC Police department reported that Suwilanji Situmbeko had been located, to the relief of many. Zambians on social media congratulated themselves for making enough noise to get their “cousin” located. It was a rare moment of national unity – as a number of users pointed out – and now they are demanding answers. So where WAS Stukie?

The reasons that folks have put forth to buttress their (assumed) right to know all the details surrounding his disappearance nclude:

  • Emotional investment
  • Spending money on data bundles to push the #WhereIsStukie hashtag, and
  • But if your boyfriend sleeps around on you and goes missing and you report it, doesn’t he owe you an explanation?

I am sure that Suwilanji is grateful for the online support he has received. I haven’t spoken to him myself, but I sent him an email to express my gratitude and relief that he’s be found alive, and I assume well.

Again, I assume he’s well. I don’t know.

When a 27-year-old man is reported missing – and has been MIA for 14 days – one can never speculate with any accuracy what the circumstances surrounding that disappearance were. And so because there is no room for speculation, an entire cabal of social media users is demanding that their curiosity be satisfied. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that they have a claim on information about what happened to Stukie.

I wonder, have any of these people asked themselves if they are prepared to deal with the truth of what happened? How will that knowledge benefit them personally, or more importantly, how does it benefit Stukie, the “cousin” and “brother” who we as professed family rallied to bring global attention to finding? What if he comes forward and explains himself…and the answer doesn’t satisfy you? What will you do then? Given the speed with which supportive Voltrons turn to virulent Trolls on Twitter, I have a fair indication of how Stukie could be treated by his “Ati! I used data-bundle – to – promote-hashtag– so-you-owe-me family”.

What if what happened to him was worse than you could imagine?

What if he was kidnapped and physically and sexually assaulted at gunpoint over the course of 14 days? Are you going to be there to walk him through the trauma?

What if his abductors only released him on condition of his silence?

What if he comes forward with information and in doing so puts his family at risk?

Or – and this will set your teeth on edge – what if Stukie had a psychotic break, imagined all the incidents he posted online and made the entire episode up in his mind? Perhaps you may recall the story about the Nigerian med school student who failed to turn up at her own graduation party and went missing for 21 days? She was so overwhelmed by her family’s expectations of her that she felt the need to escape and attempt a new life. Remember how she was scorned online (and probably in real life as well) for wasting everyone’s time and playing with OUR emotions? Do you think that that reaction was helpful to her in ANY way? Do you think a similar reaction in Stukie’s case would be healthy for him either?

I understand that people are curious. I even understand the notion that we all have a right to know. What I don’t comprehend is this idea that we must know RIGHT now. There was a time that as a culture, we understood that. We understood the importance of giving people time to process and heal. We are dealing with a real human being’s life right now. This is not a reality show or a LifeTime made for TV film. When (or if) the man is ready, he will come forward and talk about it. I can bet my last cent that there are members of the Zambian media trying to scoop his cousin and/or employer to feed this empty lust for information. Just leave this man be and let him have some peace! Because if you are ALSO not ready to come with resources to support him besides plagiarizing the work of bloggers for clicks on your website, you need to sit this one out too.

In the meantime, since Zambians have seen how effective their efforts have been at locating the lost, perhaps they can use those powers to finding lost government revenues and other missing persons who could do with similar exposure. But for now, Stukie has been found and that should be enough for all of us.

Ghoulishness on the Garden Route

It’s easy to get caught up in the splendor and beauty of South Africa’s Garden Route along the N2. This is wine country. The fields are lush and green, the earth bountiful. And yet despite all the plenty that surrounds and inundates us, there is intense poverty everywhere you look. People lack jobs, but more to the point they lack skilled labor. The Garden Route is the perfect depiction for Miles Monroe’s definition of poverty: Being in possession of resources and yet lacking the skills or knowledge to convert them into wealth.


Poverty along the Garden Route is just one of the many things that saddens me about what really ought to be a paradise and a safe haven. I am convinced that there is no reason anyone should live in fear or want in an area that offers so much pleasantness to the senses and the soul. And yet it is the nature of man to foul even then most exquisite of God’s creations in the name of domination… as a celestial birthright afforded to him for the sake of his maleness alone.  Why else would someone have raped and murdered Jelica* on Sunday night?

It’s tempting to blame poverty for the demise of this 27-year-old township beauty, but we know from the headlines that wealthy white men rape, molest and rob people every day. The only difference being that it’s deemed a “temporary lapse in judgment” or “white collar crime”. Criminal behavior is not a consequence of socioeconomic class. One’s environment does not determine one’s predisposition for criminal activity. Your character does. Defenders of the man who committed this heinous crime and is yet to be apprehended will certainly try to use his circumstances and environment as an excuse for his actions. These suppositions must be rejected soundly.

So what happened?

On Monday morning I set off to Kurland village to pick up our housekeeper. As I pulled into the township around 8:30, I saw a crowd of people milling around a stretch of road called “Animal Alley”, named so for the number of animal sanctuaries concentrated in the area. All up and down the road, people stood in clusters engaged in private conversations. The women looked particularly upset. There’s always something going on in The Crags. Just last week a woman was sitting on the side of road in the rain, so completely drunk that it didn’t occur to her to seek shelter. A patron at the same tavern she had left earlier got into his car and ran over her. Twice. I figured something had happened to cause the townspeople to gather so early, but nothing had prepared me for this.

Jelica’s mother passed away two years ago, and since then she’d been responsible for her own upkeep. Jobs are few and far between in this area, and I have no idea what she had to do to survive. Folk can live in their parents’ house well into their 30’s. The little I’ve uncovered about Jelica is that she was gorgeous, that she had many “boyfriends” and that her death was absolutely gruesome. Following her rape, her private parts were chopped off of her body, ostensibly in an attempt to conceal the identity of her attacker(s).

There are some who have tried to assign blame for Jelica’s death on Jelica herself. Because she did not belong to any one man, and had the audacity to formulate relationships with several men – whether romantically or not – she was therefore responsible for her rape and mutilation. It’s a popular (and stupid) idea that is not peculiar to this part of the world. From New York to Kwa-Zulu Natal, there will be both men and women who espouse these beliefs. The fact is, the other person responsible for Jelica’s death is her murderer.

The circumstances and the methodical execution of Jelica was eerily similar to LaVena Johnson. Johnson, some of you may recall, was a solider who had enlisted in the US army in 2003. Her body was found with a broken nose, loose teeth and acid poured on her genitals. She was raped and murdered by her comrades. The army ruled her death a suicide.

Like LaVena, I highly doubt that her attacker(s) will be brought to book. With so much damage done to Jelica’s body, there is little hope that there is enough evidence to lead to an arrest. Unless someone saw or heard something, her assailant is still on the loose, and that is not a comforting thought for anyone on the Garden Route. For all we know, there is a serial killer on the loose. That this brutal attack took place in an area called Animal Alley in not an irony that is lost on me.

As the holidays draw near, it is sobering to hear that more of these stories will become more frequent. December brings warm weather to Plett, but it also brings rape, robbery and death. It’s the dark side of paradise.

It’s Going to Take Some Time For Me to Learn to Pray Like an African

*Dear God: I know that I will probably be punished for what I am about to write. I may even go to hell for it…but I have to get this off my chest. I hope you will understand.

                                                            Yours sincerely and with love,

                                                                        Abena Gyekye


A few days ago I wrote on our family’s mission blog (34DGZ) about a demon manifestation that happened at Shack Church. The closest I’ve ever been to an alleged demon manifestation is when I was in 6th grade or thereabouts. I was living in Labone, and the kids down the street were telling me about how their half-sister was growling as their mother/aunty was beating her. Her eyes were “glowing red” in the darkness because “Mary is a witch.”

Now Mary WAS an awful little gob of phlegm and a horrible human being in general…but she was no witch. At least not in the nature my former playmates ascribed to her. She had no magical powers and couldn’t cast a spell over a pot of porridge – but she did steal and she did lie and she was rebellious for no honorable cause, and that made her close enough to an evil spirit in the African sense as would ever be.

I stopped rocking with Mary shortly after that. (This was the same chick who came over to my house to whip my sister’s behind for some candy. I told you guys about her a few years ago.)

If I were to diagnose Mary, I’d say she was criminally insane, certainly suffering from kleptomania and severely lacking in affirmation and affection. But a witch? Nah. It is my personal belief that a lot of Africans tormented by “evil spirits” just need someone to treat them with some common courtesy and need a non-judgmental ear to pour out their issues upon. You can’t do/say anything in this part of the world without the devil coming into play somewhere.

Got a stomachache? It’s the devil eating your insides.

Suffering from insomnia? It’s the witches in your village dancing in your dreams.

Your brand new car won’t start? Eeesss de devil oooo! Someone has put juju in the engine!

So anyway, because Christian African is so acutely aware of the devil’s presence and interference in daily life, the church spends an inordinate amount of time trying to cast him out.

Cast the devil out of your finances.

Cast the devil out of your ministry.

Cast the devil out of your marriage.

Cast the devil out of your children.

Eh? No, no. We cannot cast the devil out of your philandering husband who is spending all of your household finances on university girls and exploring his secret homoerotic desires with willing young men. Your husband is the head of the household. As for that one, longsuffering wife, you must just submit.

But back to the devil:

How exactly does one cast the devil out? Why, with fire, of course! The devil comes from the pit of hell where eternal flame glows and all unclean souls go to burn in agony forever. Conventional military wisdom has taught us that in warfare, we “fight fire with fire.” How much more spiritual warfare? I think this is why the typical charismatic African church spends all morning and a good portion of the afternoon praying fire.

At the exorcism I witnessed, the very earnest pastors and church mothers surrounded this young woman shouting:

“Fiya! Fiya! FIIIYA!!”


Oh. Was something burning? Or are we trying to burn this girl? What is the purpose of yelling “Fire!” in the house of the Lord? Ironically, the next afternoon I was on Twitter and a man tweeted a similar experience. His girlfriend had dragged him to church and in obliging, he soon found himself under a hail of “Fire!”

“We were there praying for healing and then the next moment the whole church was shouting ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ for one hour…”

A few weeks ago, another user tweeted his church experience where the pastor exhorted the entire congregation to ‘roar like a lion’.

“Nah, fam. I’m good”

I mean, seriously. Roar like a lion and then what?

These are the lines that I don’t think any Christian should cross. Because you know what the next step is? Obinim stomping on your wife’s belly with his leather moccasins or your daughter in the aisles on her hands and knees, following a pastor around as he asks repetitively – and rhetorically – “Where are my sheeps?” (Yes ooo. Sheeps. With an ‘s’.)


But you see, these are the things that get African Christians excited. (Unless they are Catholics. Catholics don’t want no part of these shenanigans.) This Sunday, I was asked to pray over a few people who had addictions in Shack Church. I mean, my prayer life is okay, but it ain’t authoritative enough to be breaking no addictions. Still, I did as I was bidden to do and prayed for folk to be released from the bondage of addiction.

It was an earnest prayer. In fact, I thought it was a very good prayer. No one was really responding, however, so I decided to switch it up a little.

“Fire! Fire! I call fiyaaa!!!!

Ohhhh….The hallelujahs came rolling in after that. I was so tempted to shout “Wind! Water! Earth!” just to see what would happen…. 😦



This is my confession, friends.



Stop laughing.

The Stunning Conclusion to The Chronicle of My Lost Bag

At 7:03 am today, my husband went out to the living room to restart our Internet. I lazily looked out of the window waiting for the sun to peek over the cliffs and provide our house some much needed warmth. We live in the shadow of a mountain, meaning sunrise is a delayed phenomenon. I heard his voice in the distance, and it had taken on a business-like tone, which was odd for this hour. His work calls to America didn’t start until around 2 pm local time.


“Yes. Yes, it does have some teddy bears in it. Errrm…baby shoes? No, we don’t have a baby. That might not belong to us…”

I sat straight up in the bed. Was he on the phone with the airline about our bag? My heart began to pound fiercely against my rib cage. Just Monday, Lauren Fulford-Andrews from the Virgin Atlantic baggage service wrote me a heartfelt (probably canned_ email response about how sorry he was that my bag was lost and how unusual of an occurrence it was. He hoped that it wouldn’t change my opinion of the airline, but unfortunately there was nothing Virgin Atlantic could do about the lost luggage. It was up to South African Airways, our final carrier for our trip, to either provide reimbursement or locate my bag. In return, South African Airways pointed me back to VA, stating that the bag was NEVER scanned through Johannesburg but that I was welcome to fill out a claim form. I would have to come to Jo-burg (an 8 hour drive) or Port Elizabeth (2.5 hour drive) to do this. We drove the 2.5 hours to Port Elizabeth 2 Saturdays ago, only to discover in a follow-up call days that SAA could have emailed us the form…the woman who picked up our call that day just decided not to give us that option.

After itemizing the contents of my bag, the total to be reimbursed came to R24,000 (about $1500). As all of my Twirra followers know, the previously lost Ghana Must Go bag contained all of my winter boots, my First Lady Hat, my Sutra flat irons, several pairs of heels and an odd assortment of items. I wear a size 10 shoe and have wide calves. It’s difficult for me to source shoes that are both stylish AND a good fit because my feet and legs are not “mainstream”. So when I heard talk of items that sounded familiar to mine, I was filled with indescribable glee!

“Let me let you talk to my wife,” Marshall said, handing me the phone. “She’s the one who packed the bag so she would know.”

“Hello, M’em? This is Cyril from South African Airways in Port Elizabeth.”

“Hi! Hi, Cyril. Good morning!”

Oh my God, y’all. I felt like I was a contestant on The Price is Right.

“Yes. I think we have your bag here. It just came in from Virgin Atlantic in Jo’burg today!” Oh, really! So despite all their claims that SAA had to have the bag, VA had it all along? Cyril was still talking. “There are some teddies…so black and white teddies and a corduroy bag?”

Those didn’t sound familiar, but I HAD just packed up a whole house. Who knows what I’d stuffed in there at the last-minute. “Is there a grey dolphin in there,” I asked. Liya came crying because her Pop Pop had won her that dolphin at the Clark County fair last summer and she REALLY wanted it back!

“Yes! I see a dolphin.”

My heart began racing at a new pace.

“Do you see some boots, Cyril?”

“Yes…Some gum boots. And a big, big men’s shoe.”

That was Marshall’s one pair.

“What about black boots? Do you see any riding boots…err…tall black ladies boots?”

“I see some tekkies. A white one with pink laces…Nike. And also a black one with pink laces.”

My Nikes and New Balances. Oh my GOD! This was my bag!

“Cyril. Do you see a hat? A white hat!”

Cyril, my angel from lost baggage at South African Airways paused. He told me that he’d have to empty the whole bag to see if he could find a hat. He teased me, informing me that was stuffed pretty well. I giggled. I HAD stuffed it. I had stuffed full of my favorite boots and shoes and my sister’s hat.

“Yes. I know.”

Finally, he asked me to describe the bag itself. It is red and yellow and white, made of vinyl.

“Then m’em, this is YOUR bag!”

I squealed. I literally squealed! This luggage has been missing since May 29th. Today is June 30th. I had already resigned myself to reality that it was GONE. That I would never see my First Lady Hat again, and that I’d have to run these uglass Easy Spiritis I’d flown into the country with into the ground until I got back to the States and re-buy everything.

“We will be at your house in an hour. You can expect us at 8, ok? Maybe 8:30. Okay, you make it 9 am. We are coming now now.”

“Sure! I’ll see you then!”

I shot up out of bed and took a shower. I wanted to be clean and presentable when my bag arrived. I waltzed around the house with a smile on my face. NOTHING was going to ruin this wonderful day. The lamb that was lost was finally coming home!

At 11:21 am, the guys from SAA showed up at the door. They laid Ghana Must Go at my feet. That was my bag alright! But why did it look so… thin?

“I need to see if all the items are inside,” I said.

The man with the clipboard told me I ought to. So I did. I dumped the contents of my found bag onto the floor and couldn’t believe my eyes.

Out tumbled all of the kids’ stuffed animals.

Out tumbled two pair of sneakers.

Out came 1 purple Sam Edelman heel and 1 black Pink & Pepper heel. Their mates were NOWHERE to be found.

Out tumbled my beaded Kenyan flip flops and a Guess satchel I’d bought Aya to play dress up with when she was 5.

Out came 1 pair of rain boots.

No leather riding boots.

No suede tall boots.

Nadjah’s Tommy galoshes were a vapor.

My quilted waterproof boots were nowhere to be seen.

The Sutra and BayBliss flat irons? You can just forget that. Those run at $120-150 a piece.

The First Lady Hat?


This was the last time the hat was seen or worn in public. :(

This was the last time the hat was seen or worn in public. 😦

Essentially, they took everything of value…anything with a label, from the bag. I looked at the driver and his mate as though they were bringing me news of Hodor’s death. No…as if they were Brandon Stark trying to explain away their part in Hodor’s death! What a betrayal. What a violation! I felt hollow inside. I still do.

“Some of my things are missing.” My lips curled as though I had just been made to swallow cat urine – a hoax, thinking it was lemonade.

The driver shrugged. “You can call this number and file a claim for the missing items. I’m sure your husband is very familiar with the procedure.”

He impatiently asked me to sign a sheet of paper saying he’d delivered the bag. I refused to sign it. I told my husband he could have that “honor”. I didn’t want my name anywhere near that fraudulent sheet of parchment.

I felt cheated. Like I’d been invited to a banquet, gotten all dressed up, and only been served moldy bread and tepid water. Why would someone DO this? Why would you take SO MANY things that don’t belong to you??? Why, Virgin Atlantic? Why, South African Airways? Why, white Jesus?

So this how the story ends. I have my bag, but I don’t have my stuff.

There is no way I’m getting my stuff back. They can’t be traced. I may get compensated for my stolen belongings, or I may not. Virgin and South African may try to toss me about the same way they’ve been doing for the past 30 days. Even if they do reimburse me for my stolen items, where would I go to shop? Plettenberg Bay is a village….a beautiful village…but they don’t have diverse shops that cater to women of my stature.

I fault Virgin Atlantic for this entire fiasco. They said SAA had the bag in their possession and they never did until today. SAA gets a lot of flack and has a bad reputation in the industry for losing passenger’s items, but this time it wasn’t their fault. There is no version of this that ends with Richard Branson on my door step personally apologizing for hiring sticky fingered goons in his organization. There is no version of this where I spend my first winter in South Africa with warm feet. There is only this lengthy form that I fill out and send back into the ether with hopes that an agent takes the time to give it serious consideration.

But FIRST, I have to fill out a police report and have an officer stamp it with an official seal. Can you believe that? YOU (Mr. Airline) jack ME and I have to swagger into the police office to report you. You know you are a thief. Go and report yourself!


PS: I’m aware that there are loads of typos in this post. I don’t care. I can’t go back and revisit this. It’s just too painful.


Have you ever been robbed by an airline? Did you get justice? DO you think Richard Branson will come by for tea and tell me how sorry he is that his company mucked up?

White Privilege Ran Into Our Car Today

The weather in Plett has been absolutely gorgeous, and if you follow us on Instagram, no doubt you’ve been diverted by the pictures of brilliant blue skies, the ocean’s sapphire surf and the majestic mountains all around us. Today, however, the temperatures dropped dramatically and we were forced to stay inside. Marshall had to go into town to get some bank transfer stuff sorted out (a process that he has logged 56 hours trying to complete) and was gone for the majority of the morning. At around 2 pm, he came back looking both triumphant and dejected.

“I got the bank account set up today,” he said sullenly.

I didn’t raise my eyes from my phone screen when I replied. “Great! Congratulations!”

“I also got into a fender bender today.”


Now my attention was solely fixed on my husband’s stiff, marbled countenance.

“Yeah. I was at a stop in town waiting for some car to turn and this dude came flying down the street and hit me.”

“Did you call the police?”


“Did you exchange insurance information?”

“He didn’t have insurance.”

“Well, did you get pictures of his face, car and license plate???”

“No! I was just too pissed off to do any of that but yell that he’d be paying for the damages! I don’t know how this kind of stuff works here in South Africa! …All I got was his card with his cell phone number on it.”

Marshall was curt and his tone sharp. We’ve had this car for less than a month, and within 2 weeks of Marshall’s re-entry into the country, THIS happens. I looked at the business card Marshall had been given and groaned inwardly.


Bad Ben

Crop duster| Musician| Motivational speaker*


The guy who hit him was some white surfer kid who played the guitar for a living. Without even meeting this guy, I knew that he was probably the embodiment of every beach town cliché I’d seen on Disney channel or the CW.

I could see why he was so upset. And so, as he’s done so many times for me in the past, I tried to be the voice of logic and linear progression when emotions have gotten the better of me as they’d just done him. I suggested that we call the insurance company, which we did. Their response didn’t make sense.

“So you’re telling me that I have to pay a R1000 penalty for filing a claim for an accident I didn’t cause AND my insurance policy gets dinged for filing said claim?”

“Yes,” said the agent.

Marshall rubbed his temples. I rubbed his back. This is Africa, I mouthed at him. He smiled wryly in response and told the agent he had no interest in filing the claim. Option 2 was to work things out with Brock – I mean BEN – and have him pay for the damages out of pocket as he said he would at the scene of the accident.

We went down to Erasmus Panel Beaters in the industrial district in town and got a quote for the repairs. The entire back bumper needed to be replaced. The impact of the Ben’s car had damaged the sensors in the lift gate. Now, there’s some funky light in the car that stays on, perpetually. The quote to repair the damage came to R5800 ($384). We called Ben with the estimate since it had been decided that having him pay put of pocket for the damage he’d caused rather than penalizing ourselves for the event was the way to go. I couldn’t believe my ears when he answered the phone.

“Yeah…you know, after I went home and thought about it, I’ve decided I’m not going to pay for the damages. I feel like we both bear mutual responsibility for the crash.”

Marshall was having none of that.

“We don’t bear ‘mutual responsibility’. You hit ME.”

“Yes, as I said WE were in an accident…”

“…that YOU caused!”

“Mate, at least your car came out better than mine! You only have a few scratches on your bumper. My whole front end is crushed!”


“That’s not my problem. Because either one of two things happened when you hit me: Either you were tailgating me, or you weren’t paying attention and didn’t give yourself enough time to stop when you slammed into me. Either way, you weren’t maintaining a safe distance and therefore are liable for the accident!”

“We were in the middle of town! Who maintains a ‘safe distance’ when they’re driving in town?”

What? Who WAS this guy? And what was wrong with him? I listened to the conversation with growing irritation.

“Also, you literally went to the most expensive repair shop in town. I don’t have R5000 to give you.”

“You’re not going to be giving it to me, you’re going to give it to Erasmus Panel Beaters,” Marshall said with as much patience as he could muster.

Ben eventually conceded that he might consider paying for the damages, if it was for about R1000.

“I was going to have a mate of mine fix my entire car for about that much. Why is yours so expensive?” Ben was incredulous. Poor, silly, uninsured man.

Marshall read down the list of damages for Ben’s benefit, which included the sensors for the lift gate.

“Sensors? What sensors? Why do the ‘sensors’ need to be replaced?”

Because you hit a 2005 Chrysler Town & Country, not a 1988 Hyundai Kuntash, you ninny! I wanted to scream.

Finally, I’d had enough. I went into the repair shop and asked for the number to the police station, leaving my husband to yell threats about a lawsuit and Ben’s gallant attempt to appear unshaken by informing my husband that he ‘would not be intimidated by him’.

“Furthermore, you stopped suddenly and then I hit you,” Ben said with more conviction than the fable deserved, lying through what were probably perfect little teeth, probably courtesy of some equally irresponsible parent who’d reared him into the irresponsible prat that he is today.

“It doesn’t matter,” Marshall growled. “The burden of responsibility still lies with you to maintain a safe distance since you were driving behind me.”

The very notion was lost on Ben, who wondered aloud why Marshall was being such a hard nose about all of this.

“Don’t you have insurance? They can pay for all this!”

“Dude, why don’t YOU have insurance?”

Ben thought about it for brief moment and informed Marshall that the fact that he didn’t have insurance was irrelevant. HE had insurance, his company could pay for the damages that he (Ben) had caused, and that really should be the end of it.

I was stunned.

For the past several days, the reality and power of white male privilege has been inculcated in us through the headlines. Brock Turner receiving 6 months for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Oscar Pistorius walking around on his stumps with the aim of inciting sympathy after murdering Reeva Steenkamp. Robert H. Richards IV, the Du Pont heir who raped his 3 year old daughter and was spared any prison time at all because he “would not fare well there” according to the judge who should have thrown him under the jail. The list of atrocities and petty crimes alike that privileged white men are permitted to get away with – incidences that have sent men of color to prison for life in some cases – is exhaustive and exhausting. It dates back to Alexander the Great. In many of these cases, there is a single thread that stands out in the sordid patchwork of impunity: A blatant lack of remorse. An unashamed refusal to accept responsibility to accept blame for their wrongdoings. An unsettling need to place blame for the atrocity on the person they have victimized.

It’s one thing to inspect this cultural phenomenon as a casual observer from the safety of your newspaper or electronic device…and it’s quite another to have white privilege slam into you on a rainy weekend. I still haven’t recovered.



*Not Ben’s real surname or his profession. I thought about releasing it in hopes that the publicity could lead him to some new gigs, but we saw him at a restaurant in town the night of the accident, so he’s probably doing just fine on the local circuit.

Learning The Language of the Oppressor

The kids were fighting in the back seats of the car, making an unholy ruckus, fighting about who had breathed the last of whose air and why it was so unfair. We were taking a day trip along the Garden Route, destination: I Can’t Recall. After 15 minutes I’d heard enough choruses of “Giiiiive-ugh!” and “Miiiine-ugh!” to last me a lifetime and was thus compelled to do something completely out of character. I turned on public radio. (Pandora is not an option outside of the US.)

Soon, our car was flooded with the sounds of native Afrikaans and Xhosa radio announcers, no doubt encouraging us to attend one event or purchase one product or another. Either way it was all preferred alternative background noise to me. One presenter with a particularly smooth voice caught my attention. I liked how he was saying what he was saying, but that harsh Afrikaans accent was grating on my ears. How could people grunt, growl and hack through so many words so many times a day without spitting up esophageal matter? I turned to my now silent kids, amused by a sudden thought.

“Hey guys! When you go to school, you’re going to have to learn how to speak Afrikaans just like this too!” I cleared a bit of phlegm in my throat for emphasis.

They recoiled at the very idea.

“Oh no, I’m not,” said the eldest.

“Me neither,” said her echo.

Soon the car was filled with vehement protestations – a visceral reaction at the very idea of having to speak a language from a people that they had no relation to or nothing in common with. I allowed them their moment of “American individuality”, knowing full well that after all the noise had died down, they would have no choice but to comply when school started. Some phenomena are universal. You gone do this math exam and you gone write this paper in Afrikaans!

They will be exempt from being tested in Afrikaans, an exemption that expires after two years. Eventually, they will learn the language not because it’s a mandate; because both Marshall and I want them to.


Today is June 16th, and it is the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Sarafina”, you have a vague idea of what the youth uprising was all about. In the 1950’s, South Africa and North America had adopted similar social and political attitudes with regards to race relations in each respective country. Apartheid and Jim Crow were fraternal twins living half a world away from each other. The Bantu Education Act was signed into law in 1953, providing Black South Africans with an education so parochial that they were only rendered fit to work as domestic servants post graduation. The Mission Schools that the British (who were far more tolerant in their racism than their Boer counterparts) were abolished. It was in these schools that scholarly minds such as Nelson Mandela received a premier education and allowed him to navigate white supremacist political structures in his country.

Mandela also spoke “high Afrikaans”.

In fact, he spoke Afrikaans with such authority and excellence that some Afrikaners were intimidated by his eloquence. Why did he expend the effort to learn the language of the oppressor? According this his fellow prison inmate, Saths Cooper, “He argued it was all a question of knowing your enemy. His position was that you had to know their language, their passions, their hopes and their fears if you were ever going to defeat them.”

Now, my family not in South Africa to be anyone’s enemy nor to defeat them. That’s not our motivation for having the kids and us learn to speak Afrikaans. I believe the same principle of understanding applies if you are on a mission to make friends, conduct business…or to understand basics of the environment in which you live.

I am always amazed by the melting pot of languages I encounter on a day-to-day basis. Everyone here can speak at least two languages. I see Black South Africans exhibiting the most versatility. I have yet to see an Englishman or Boer speak Xhosa in the town in which we reside, but I see Xhosa women slip between Afrikaans, English and Xhosa with ease, depending on their function and whom they are addressing. It’s marvelous.

Last year, I was mulling over the possibility of having Sally & the Butterfly translated into Afrikaans for the kids in the township that we worked in during our 2011 stay. A Ghanaian friend of mine who works in social justice circles balked at the idea. I could hear her frowning through the phone. She is just as well versed in South Africa’s violent history as I am, probably more so.

“Why would you want your book translated into the language of the oppressor?” she trilled.

I thought about it. “Well…isn’t English the language of our oppressor?”

“Yes,” she said after a brief moment of consideration, “but I feel like we’ve made English our own. We’ve Africanized it. We own it.”

I’d like to believe that in post-apartheid South Africa, the once openly oppressed colored/Black banker, the domestic worker and/or business owner can say the same thing – that all though this language was once forced upon them, and brutally so, that they were able to master IT and make it their own. That’s what I want for my kids.

That, and you really don’t want to be that one chick at the salon who everyone is talking about and you can’t say a word in clapbackery.